There are hundreds of restaurants on our small island and not enough time during a week long vacation to enjoy them all. Beachside Bites & Brews is a culinary tour of the best places to dine on Hilton Head Island. The intent is not to spotlight the typical “tourist spots” but instead our top picks, the local’s favorites. And I will cover it all – from hearty breakfast, upscale dinning, cocktails with a sunset backdrop and everything in between.

My first restaurant spotlight on Beachside’s Bites & Brews is a must try! Santa Fe Café, which is located mid-island on William Hilton Parkway near Shelter Cove Marina, specializes in southwestern style cuisine. They have been making many local’s & visitor’s bellies very happy for over 20 years.

I’m pretty sure I have tried almost everything on Santa Fe Café’s menu and I can honestly say there is not a single thing I have not liked. From the Yucatan Ceviche, to the Outrageous Chimichanga to the Shrimp Tacos, it is all fantastic. What I appreciate most is the food is consistently delicious. When you go to Santa Fe Café, you can always expect a very satisfying meal and experience. The atmosphere is cozy & fun…and there are several seating options, from an inside table, to a stool at the bar, to an outdoor table in the upstairs “Cantina” area where typically you will enjoy live music, to the chef’s counter which is my personal favorite when it’s just my husband and I dining. At the chef’s counter you’ll be able to watch Austin, Dave & Sean firing up the mesquite grill and plating all the culinary creations.

So this past Sunday, my husband and I enjoyed a delicious dinner at Santa Fe, as always. We received our usual warm greeting at the entrance from Marshall before being escroted to our usual spot at the chef’s counter. After saying “hello” to Dave & Sean who were working the grill area, we moved on to making our dinner selections. There are truly so many items on this menu I love it’s always hard to decide. Tonight I ended up going with the Mesquite Grilled Shrimp Cocktail appetizer and the Tortilla Crusted Salmon (although as you will see in my photo, I asked the chef’s to just grill the salmon without the crust) and my husband went with the Oysters appetizer and the Mesquite Grilled Filet Mignon Fajitas. And as expected, everything was incredible and we cleared all four single plates.

Now before I move on, I must mention some of my other favorites from this menu…I’ll go ahead and apologize for the long list, but there’s just so many things I feel must be mentioned. So here’s my list of favorites beyond the dishes we ordered: Guacamole En Molcajete (who doesn’t love homemade guac?), Yucatan Ceviche, Sampler Platter, Painted Desert Soup (not only delicious but beautiful presentation as well), Outrageous Chimichanga, Santa Fe Plato Combination, Grouper & Grilled Pork Tenderloin. My mouth is watering just typing this out. Oh, and I can’t forget to mention, there fresh made margaritas are superb as well.

OK, so back to our meal. The oyster’s arrived first and thankfully my husband shared. They were prepared beautifully…very lightly crusted with cornmeal and then quickly fried so they remain juicy but with a crispy crust. As my husband said as he was eating them: “these are the best cornmeal crusted oysters I have ever eaten”, and I would second that comment! Then the shrimp cocktail arrived…yum, yum, yum! The shrimp are large and perfectly mesquite grilled giving them an impressive smokey flavor. They are served on the rim of a martini glass with homemade cocktail sauce over a bed of lettuce and some diced, fresh avocado. Again, the best shrimp cocktail I’ve ever had!

Then for our main courses. I love seafood, and I eat a lot of it. This dish makes me particularly happy because it is light and fresh. The salmon is served over a tower with walls made of sliced cucumber and then filled with a salad prepared with a balsamic dressing. It is then finished with a drizzle of avocado cream and fresh avocado. For all the steak lovers out there, the Mesquite Grilled Filet Mignon fajitas must not be overlooked. Yes, that’s right….filet mignon fajitas! They take an 8 ounce filet, cook it over the mesquite grill before finishing it off in the oven and then serve it sliced over a bed of sautéed onions and peppers, along with a side of four tortillas, diced tomatoes, sour cream and guac. This filet has incredible flavor and is sure to impress.

Anytime I am asked for dining recommendations, Santa Fe Café is always on the top of my list. They are open 7 days a week for dinner as well as Monday – Friday for lunch. For more information on Santa Fe Café or to see a full menu, visit their website.

Stay tuned for more of my favorite restaurants, coffee shops and happy hour spots on Beachside Bites & Brews…